Why do people believe what they do? A functionalist perspective

Matthew Tyler Boden, Howard Berenbaum, James J. Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why do people believe what they do? Scholars and laypeople alike tend to answer this question by focusing on the representational functions of beliefs (i.e., representing the world accurately). However, a growing body of theory and research indicates that beliefs also can serve important hedonic functions (i.e., decreasing/increasing negative or positive emotional states). In this article, we describe: (a) the features of belief; (b) the functions served by beliefs, with a focus on the hedonic function; (c) an integrative framework highlighting the hedonic function and contrasting it with the representational function; and (d) the implications of our framework, and related future research directions for individual differences in belief, belief change, and the ways in which beliefs contribute to adaptive versus maladaptive psychological functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-411
Number of pages13
JournalReview of General Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Belief
  • Belief change
  • Emotion regulation
  • Function
  • Functionalist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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